In an effort to improve discourse and ensure meetings are accessible to the public, the Ann Arbor City Council introduced a new resolution on Feb. 1 to amend Council Rules to have Council meetings end earlier, garnering both support and wariness from councilmembers. Since the council moved to conduct fully remote meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have often gone into the early morning, sometimes past 1 a.m.
The resolution also aims to limit negative interactions between councilmembers.
On Feb. 1, City Council voted to approve the resolution R-21-047, a Resolution to Approve Amendments to the Council Rules. It was brought up for a second time on Feb. 16 in a motion to reconsider its approval after issues were raised about the resolution potentially infringing on free speech. The motion to reconsider was approved.
The resolution entails limiting discussion and debate on agenda items by reducing speaking times for councilmembers from three minutes down to two. An amendment in the resolution calls for councilmembers not to “assail, question, or impugn the integrity, character or motives of another Member” in or outside of council meetings.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor would act as the Presiding Officer over the meeting and would ultimately decide if a violation occurs. If the mayor deems that a violation occurred, he will give the councilmember who was spoken against two minutes of speaking time to defend themselves or say that the other councilmember is out of order.
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, spoke at the Feb. 1 meeting in support of the resolution, saying that the resolution will give power to councilmembers to defend themselves against attacks made on them without it taking up their limited speaking time. She has been on City Council since 2014 and said she hopes the resolution will help to improve councilmembers’ behavior.
“I believe the point of this is not to use it frequently and to actually keep us from going down in a rabbit hole where we’re defending one another,” Grand said at the meeting. “It really just gives that person, on hopefully a very rare occasion, the opportunity, if they have been clearly attacked to step in and get back in quickly to the work that we’ve been doing.”
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, also spoke at the Feb. 1 meeting in support of the section allowing councilmembers to defend themselves against attacks that may imgun their integrity. Disch has been a member of City Council since Nov. 2020.
“This is not constraining anyone’s ability to express their opinion,” Disch said. “It is constraining their ability to promulgate negativity about this body and its individual members. And because statements that promulgate negativity about the body and it’s members compromise the dignity of this council, it compromises trustin council.”
Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, told The Daily she does not think the resolution would shorten the meeting because the length is based largely on the number of agenda items, not each individual speaking. She also worried about issues not being fully discussed and understood by various councilmembers in the interest of time.
“I’m concerned about the idea that we want to reduce speaking time and that the suggestion is coming from new councilmembers right out of the gate,” Nelson said. “(They) are perhaps less informed about some of these issues, and I will say that when I first got on council, I benefited hearing from our colleagues who have more experience than me.”
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, said he also disapproves of the proposal and told The Michigan Daily he thinks the desire of new councilmembers to limit speaking time seems to be an overstep.
“I didn’t see the need for the rules,” Hayner said. “And the rules were coming from a couple of councilmembers who’ve only been seated for a month and a half and so I thought it was a little presumptuous to start changing the rules.”
Hayner said the new rule would reduce the amount of time councilmembers are present to hear the concerns of their constituents.
“It’s not like you’re reducing speaking time, what you’re reducing is my ability to speak on behalf of the 25,000 people I represent,” Hayner said. “I feel like you’re taking away from constituents your ability to express your constituents’ concerns.”
Brandon Dimcheff, a resident of Ward 4, spoke to The Daily in support of the resolution. He said he thinks the rule should be adopted to limit councilmembers from arguing with one another.
“I feel like (the resolution) shouldn’t be that controversial,” Dimcheff said. “For me, I am definitely happy that (the resolution is) happening. People think it’s going to be weaponized against something, but I don’t see it. I think regardless of the situation, they should stop bickering at each other.”
Dimcheff also said he thinks councilmembers’ time should be time-limited to shorten the total meeting times.
“I think that this process is not intended to limit the scope of the grievance hearing,” Dimcheff said. “I don’t think anybody’s First Amendment rights are getting trampled.”
Dimcheff said he believes that the new rule would result in increased information density and quality of debate, as each councilmember would have to keep the information they are sharing concise.
“If everyone comes prepared for the meeting (it will be) productive,” Dimcheff said. “Everyone would get up to speed individually and ask the best questions.”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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